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The Communicators

James Glanz News/Business. (2012) New York Times Investigative Reporter, James Glanz discusses data centers. New.

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Washington 4, Mr. Glanz 3, Northern Virginia 3, Glanz 2, New York 2, Kevin Phillips 1, James Glanz 1, Joseph Rosenberg 1, Facebook 's 1, Microsoft 1, United States 1, Stanford 1, Watts 1, Google 1, Amazon 1, Boston 1, New Hampshire 1, Baltimore 1, Quincy 1, U.s. 1,
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  CSPAN    The Communicators    James Glanz  News/Business.  (2012) New York Times  
   Investigative Reporter, James Glanz discusses data centers. New.  

    December 29, 2012
    6:30 - 7:00pm EST  

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your presence. please join me once more in thanking the chief justice of the united states. [applause] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2012] >> coming up, "the communicators." later, a look at the fiscal cliff with joseph rosenberg of the tax policy center. >> i like the congressional hearings, i like all the stuff about the educational stuff, all the policy-making situations. i think it is a great thing the washington, d.c. has all these things and c-span covers these.
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>> c-span, created in 1979 as a public service. >> james glanz is an investigative reporter with the "new york times." mr. glanz, what is an internet datacenter? >> it is a place where all the information you sent out from your communicatocomputer or mobe goes into process and storage. >> how big are these centers? >> there actually colossal. their colossal in the amount of electricity they use. some use as much electricity as a medium-sized town.
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it is a very secretive industry. they tend to be hiding in plain sight. littlees you'll see diesel generators on the side. those are backup power supplies. and it is a data center. >> were those located at the road they're all over the place. they're in high rises in cities, in greenfield sites out in suburban areas, there tucked away in the back of offices. they are the way that most commerce takes place now. everyone has to have one. there are concentrations of the in the country. northern virginia, silicon valley. they're everywhere at this point. >> who runs them? >> a variety of players. companies that need these for their regular business owns some of these data centers, everything from walmart to microsoft. there is also a culture or
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commerce of renting space in dissenters. those are lesser-known names. one of them will sell you time on servers or space on servers. >> mr. glanz, what is contained inside these warehouse buildings? >> they're fairly boring places to visit. they are stacked with these modular computers called servers. one after the other after the other. it does not look like much. they draw a lot of electricity. all the things we rely on, we use the internet -- it all happens in these anonymous looking boxes called servers, thousands upon thousands of these things. >> if somebody has a gmail or yahoo account, that e-mail goes
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through one of these servers? >> it may. people make a mistake where they send a body to an e-mail on the same block. yahoo account, um accou that information has to have a server. and then send the information to your buddy down the street, it is troubled 2,000 miles, but the information goes down the block. >> -- has traveled 2,000 miles, but the information goes down the street. >> is a through an electric line? >> is everything. the mobile devices start with the wireless signal. and that it will travel officially through probably fiber optics. until it finds the data center that might be in washington
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state, or montana, or somewhere in florida. then the business you need to have done will happen. it will come back, maybe not along the same route, but some kind of rut. it could go through electrical cables. -- route. it could go through electrical cables. >> james glanz, if we buy something on amazon, if weak bank online, if we do a google search, -- if we bank online, is that information stored on these data centers and throw it may be stored. it is certainly processed -- centers. >> it may be stored. it is certainly processed. the information we create in doing all of these actions, some of it is kind of short-lived information. it goes out. you get back the answer you want. it operates. -- evaporates.
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other information, when you go and bank online or buy something at amazon and it has to keep a record of that transaction, for its own inventory and your billing records, that stays alive basically forever. >> are these data centers the so-called cloud? >> it is a funny term. it is used in two different ways. in some people's minds, the cloud is anything that happens in the database. it is the magical stuff that happens when you send out this request. your e-mail or your request for a menu to some restaurant, and it comes back. that is a general way of speaking about the digital world. technical people in this industry refine it further. they refer to the cloud as a service in which you can rent computing space that you need
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why do need it. that way, you do not have to have a computer sitting on your desk to do processing. it is done on this rentable space, which is called the cloud. it means two different things. >> in one of your articles you ever done for the "new york times," he wrote that an examination has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of a sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness. most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. >> that is right. we also point out that different plays in this industry behave differently. there is a range. we're talking about the typical data center. doing these digital tasks,
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everything from banks to big department stores -- the computers in these data centers typically are actually not doing anything but trying electricity, for the most part. most of the electricity -- the vast majority -- is powering a computer that is waiting for something to do. these things, once turned on -- we as consumers insist that this infrastructure always be available, and never run out of capacity. those computers are sitting there, just waiting for us to call upon them to do something. whether it is day or night, the dead of night when no one is asking for the service, or the middle of the day when everyone is, they're always on. it is a built-in way of operating in this industry. it has developed a lot of critics. >> you also write about their energy use.
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worldwide, 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled. data centers in the u.s. account for one-quarter to one-third of that, the estimates show. you quote peter gross, a single data center can take more power than a medium-sized town. >> that is right. that work that you mentioned on the electricity usage was done by a researcher at stanford. and the center for dynamics, a london firm. some people ask, is that energy being used all or part of the time. once a data center turns on, it has a steady load. it is always, day or night, whether august, september, january -- they're trying that
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amount of electricity worldwide according to the best estimates from the best people in the field. >> why does it work the way? >> in part, it is because of the way that this field has grown from a few computers in someone's dorm room or back office, now to these gigantic facilities which so musmuch business depends, and where consumers expect the services to be ready at the touch of a button or a tap on the screen, they have gotten to the point where they turn them on and leave the month. that is why the figure is both so high, but also so continuous. >> james glanz, you also write that up to 90% of the electricity used by these data centers can be considered waste electricity. >> that is what i am saying.
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players in this area very a lot. some do better than others. some companies have made progress in reducing things like how much they need to use to cool these computers, how much elixirs the the use cooling computers. -- electricity they use cooling computers. in the big bulk of the field, a typical datacenter, most of that brainpower is idle. it draws about the same amount of electricity as if it were doing something, but in fact, it is mostly idle. therefore, most of the power going into that datacenter is really powering idle computing. we call that waste. there are ways to reduce the substantially with techniques that exist right now. >> why aren't those techniques
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more widely used? >> that is one of the reasons it took me a year or more to report this story, because i needed to find out or answer that question. it turns out to be something counterintuitive. we think of this digital industry as being very forward leaning and ready to take risks. but in fact, the world of data centers, it is very much like an old-line industry. it is a very risk averse kind of industry right now because if it datacenter goes down, somebody loses a job or business. consumers are going to be a rate. peoplethink about how people behave if their favorite web site is down for five minutes. in the core of this field has an incredible conservatism has been built in,
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rather than using some other technology that is newer, available -- it might be scary if your the person whose job is going to be lost when the data center goes down. >> at the heart of every internet enterprise our data centers, which are becoming more sprawling and ubiquitous as the amount of stored information explodes, starting in community after community. but the microsoft experience in quincy, washington shows that when these internet factories come to town, they can feel a bit more like old-time manufacturing than modern magic. what is the quincy, washington story? >> the story we set out to tell there was just sort of microsoft comes to town. it is a small town, around 7000 people. it has one quality that sets it apart from a lot of other small towns. it sits near the columbia river
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and a couple of hydroelectric dams that produce very cheap and continuous power. microsoft came to town in 2005 or so, 2006. what the story shows is that while you have this up-to-the- minute corporate image of what a digital company like microsoft is, it is a lot more like a traditional industry coming to town when you are on the ground living next to it. it throws its elbows around what it wants to. -- when it wants to. not the they are much better or worse than some other industry the my name, say the paper industry. they're just not that much different. >> are the environmental
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concerns when it comes to these dissenters? >> -- data centers? >> the first one is the amount of electricity they're using. people obviously want the services that these data centers provide. if people knew how much could be saved, how would they feel about that? i do not think we have the answers to those questions. the other issue is, because the dissenters can never go down, the have to have a lot of back up power. -- data centers can never go down, they have to have a lot of backup power. even if there is a small cottage outage on the grid, they are ready to take over.
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they emit diesel exhaust fumes. they have caused not in my backyard fights in quincy. a certain citizens group took on microsoft about the legality of those permits for those generators. it is an unknown part of the internet. >> have there been environmental science associated with these data centers? >> absolutely. we have a whole chapter on the case of the amazon in northern virginia. amazon was assessed large fines. it was around $200,000.
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that is very high in the world. you do not see find that high very often. -- fines that high very often. they were not getting the environmental permits for those generators. they were running them and causing emissions without getting the proper permits. they tell me they have now obtained those permits in northern virginia. that is what amazon told me when i contacted them for this story. >> james glanz, the quincy experience, how is it that quincy has become a growth area for these data centers? >> that's right. half a dozen. yahoo is right there. microsoft is the biggest. these data centers tend to cluster. part of the reason is that if energy prices are low, you'll get a lot of these data centers
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coming in. but you have other factors that come into play. one is connectivity to the fiber-optic. there is a lot of fiber optic in quincy. other things like tax breaks are very important to these companies. you mentioned -- we mentioned the receive lucrative tax breaks in that area. the result of companies sort of sifting through those factors, they tend to produce real bunches of these data centers in certain parts of the country. >> are these the desired by communities? >> is a mixed bag. -- it is a mixed bag. as far as town leadership, they're like. -- liked.
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they attracted some other business as well. that is a positive thing. were they get criticism is in a place like quincy, they used tremendous amounts of power, far more than the town itself. they create a pretty modest number of jobs. that is a debate that goes on locally. because data centers -- it is a very secretive business. often the data centers, and i cannot think of one that has the name of the company outside the data center. it is not necessarily build great community relations. they are not much for of -- the local communities. >> why so much secretiveness? >> arit depends on who you
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talk to on that one. the company's will say they're trying to guard against mr., some type of cyber attack. -- mischief, some type of cyber attack. i think they do not want the world to peek into how much energy they are using. sometimes they say it is a competitive issue. if people knew how much energy they were using, they might be able to become something about their operations. more than anything, it is either a matter of habit, they've gotten used to doing this without any scrutiny -- i thought a lot of astonishment when i walk of to the door as a reporter and say, i am from the "new york times," and i am going to write about your data center. >> what was response when you came up to the door and said, i am from the "new york
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times"? >> walking right up to the door never worked. i tried a couple of times. [laughter] the great thing about reporting around the world is there is always somebody there to tell the story who wants to tell the story. i call them truth tellers. i found the right people to get me some access to data centers. i want to see at least some of them. i was able to get in that way. i was shot down many times. >> james glanz, do these data centers employ a lot of people? are the high-tech jobs? >> that is where you get debate. there is no question -- i think i can say uncontroversial silly that they do not employ a lot of people. you can take that huge data
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center in quincy -- i do not me.e the numbers with th it is using amounts of electricity more characteristic of heavy manufacturing. about as much electricity from the grid as the paper industry. the employment situation is a different one. communities will also say, especially leaders of communities, that for a town like quincy -- that is where the debate takes place. it was not the central thesis of my story. it is definitely a point of debate. >> you right, the dissenters used abou76 billion kilowatt dar
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used roughly 2% of all electricity in the country. google's data centers consumed nearly 300 million watts. facebook's, about 60 million watts. can you put those 300 million watts and 60 million what's into perspective a little bit? >> delight both uses 100 watts. -- a light bulb uses 100 watts. facebook and google are some of the more enlightened players in relative terms as to how they use that electricity. this is a revolving conversation as to what responsible means. they're more for cleaning the many banks or big box stores -- forward leaning than many banks or big-box sores. -- stores. this is an incredibly energy
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intensive industry. after i asked google for its energy figures -- they had never release them. i bothered them enough that maybe it played a role in their decision to release the figures last year for the first time. they did it again this year. last year was around almost 250 million watts. this year is 300 watts. that is a growth of 50 watts in just one year. in a town like quincy, a town of 7000, you look at the houses and small businesses, they are may be using something more like 10 megawatts or something like that. you are talking about the amounts that large urban areas would use, or extremely large steel plants, or something like that.
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to% is roughly the amount that a lot of large industries use. -- 2% is roughly the amount that a lot of large industries use. it is hard to compare apples to apples and all these industries, but if you look at the energy they're using from the grid, the steel industry is in that same area. data centers have arrived as a heavy industry in terms of how much electricity they are using from the grid. >> to help put that even more into perspective, you also write that 48 million watts equals about 29,000 homes. james glanz, you also quote an analyst, saying if companies do not change their practices, they will hit a brick wall. what does that mean? >> he was an executive, let's
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say a technical official at one of the nation's largest utilities. his job was to follow data center. now he looks at utility aspects of data center and there i.t. practices. what he is talking about is that this growth has happened behind the scenes so quickly and with so little scrutiny that some of these practices that he sees as extremely wasteful are taking them into a realm of energy usage that he does not think it will be able to sustain. one because it will be expensive, two because it will probably get more scrutiny as these numbers increase, and three other sources have told me that competition will start to play a role here.
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i think all those things are what he means by unsustainable. >> finally, james glanz, you right there are over 2000 federal data centers. were you able to explore those at all? >> and little bit. a lot of data centers are labeled secret. some of those are the biggest users of electricity. national security administration did not invite me for a visit. i did visit in the course of the social security administration datacenter in the baltimore area. it was fascinating. when you realize that the rest of the world, the commercial world pushing all its business into data centers, so is the federal government.
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it is pretty astonishing. a quadrupling of the number over a very short period. the federal government is putting all its business and data centers, and that is being done without much scrutiny. >> unfortunately, we're out of time. james glanz is an investigative reporter with the "new york times." this series is available at nytimes.com or c- span.org/communicators. mr. glanz . thank you for your time. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2012] >> the british admirals' and generals were reporting to the crown but the colonists are sending ships -- that the colonists are sending ships. this was after the boston tea
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party and the so-called delors of acts. it is clear that the colonists were pulling together ammunition -- coercive acts. it is clear that the colonists were pulling together ammunition. as soon as the colonies found out about the order in council prohibiting ammunition and munitions from being sent to the colonies in new hampshire and rhode island, colonists took over the force and took the ammunition -- forts and took the ammunition. >> in his latest, kevin phillips >> in his latest, kevin phillips